When Super Mario 64 released to the public in 1996, audiences were blown away by the incredible 3D visuals. The transition from a series known for being completely 2D to the next dimension was seamless. One could argue that Super Mario 64 was the best game in the then well-established Super Mario franchise. I mention this because Risk of Rain seems to be having its Super Mario 64 moment. The first in the series was a 2D platforming roguelike. Risk of Rain 2, on the other hand, is completely 3D but still very recognizable. It features the same gameplay that thousands of fans fell in love with, and it's executed perfectly.
Risk of Rain 2 is currently in Early Access, but the core gameplay is already there. It shares the same mechanics as Risk of Rain. Players pick a character with unique abilities. Then, you have to take on hundreds of randomly-placed enemies throughout various levels. Survive as long as you can with up to three other players and acquire as much loot as you can. The difficulty gradually increases the longer you survive, and it features permadeath.
Here's the brilliance of Risk of Rain 2: not much has changed. There's a heavy emphasis on platforming. Loot is as essential and addicting to collect as ever. Games soon become extremely hectic and insane. Old mechanics work brilliantly with the new visuals, which are definitely worthy of praise.
Risk of Rain 2 is a beautiful game. It's astonishingly cartoony and oozing with style. I could recognize enemies from the previous game right away, which look spectacular in this sequel. The environments, from a snowy research station to a Hellish landscape, provide fun and visually appealing platforming. Things can also get very crazy later on, with a lot of special effects filling the screen. I could still pick out and distinguish everything that was happening. The technical performance on my not-so-great laptop could handle everything going on perfectly, which is impressive for an Early Access title.
At the core of Risk of Rain 2's gameplay are characters. So far there are six total characters to choose from. You only start with one but can unlock more as you go. I found that each character was extremely unique and didn't feel in any way similar to the others. So far, I think the sword-wielding Mercenary is my favorite. He can slice up enemies in a small radius, but his abilities make up for the lack of range. He can dash forward and slice up enemies back and forth. One ability teleports him to an enemy and performs a series of quick, powerful cuts.
Compare this to the range-centric Huntress. She wields a bow and performs best when on the sidelines. The Huntress can shoot her bow and throw a glaive that bounces from enemy to enemy. She can also jump in the air and shoot a volley of arrows on an area, useful for taking out large clusters of bad guys. It was hard to pinpoint which class I preferred the most. While I have my favorites, it was hard to stick to just one class. Instead, I kept going back and forth between the 5 that I've unlocked. This is a testament to developer Hopoo Games' great class design.
Contributing to the overall gameplay are items, found scattered in random places all throughout the map. Loot is incredibly fun to get because each of the dozens of items provides unique enhancements. One piece of loot might increase your damage to bosses. Another grants extra jumps. Some get a little more crazy like causing all your attacks to explode. There's a huge variety, and being the loot junky that I am, I felt right at home. If you get a duplicate piece of loot, their effects stack. When you've been fighting for over an hour, characters can feel like extremely overpowered superheroes. The overall feeling I get from the combat is incredibly satisfying.
So far there seem to be around six or seven different maps. Each map has a teleporter, which players need to look for in order to progress. Before activating a teleporting and spawning a huge boss. Boss fights are decent so far, but not particularly amazing. I think that once there's a larger variety, boss fights will feel less like a chore. They have different abilities that do a larger amount of damage than most enemies, but so far they felt a bit like bullet sponges.
Take the giant jellyfish boss, for example. They seem to just kind of sit there. It's hard to tell if they do significant damage, but like their real-life counterparts, they just kind of do nothing. The magma worm boss is more interesting. This giant beast made of lava dives out of the earth and into the air, then back into the ground again. It's visually stunning to see but a bit more interesting to fight. Still, a boss drops several items upon death so it doesn't feel like a waste of time when you kill them. They are required to progress too, so it's not like you can skip them.
It's also worth bringing up the matchmaking. Risk of Rain 2 can support up to four players each game, but most of the time I would end up with three. There seemed to be some issues connecting to lobbies. In Quick Play, I am often told that the match would begin in either zero seconds, or in several thousand seconds. I would sit there with three or four people in the group but nothing would happen. Rebooting the game or reconnecting would sometimes help. I think that given Risk of Rain 2's current popularity and being in an Early Access state contributed to this, so I can't gripe too much.
Even still, Risk of Rain 2 feels like a complete experience, and it still has around a year until it fully releases. There are hours of fun here with tons of loot and a great class variety. I hope that the developers can introduce a greater variety of bosses and fix some online issues, but overall it's well worth a look. While the first Risk of Rain was a huge hit, I think that this sequel is going to be talked about and played by fans for a long time.
TechRaptor previewed Risk of Rain 2 on PC via Steam with a code provided by the publisher.